Reyner Banham (1922 - 1988)

Written by Reyner Banham

Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies, 1971

The houses and the automobiles are equal figments of a great dream, the dream of urban homestead, the dream of a good life outside the squalors of the European type of city [122: A Bigger Splash (oil painting) 1968, David Hockney], and thus a dream that runs back not only in the Victorian railway suburbs of earlier cities, but also the country-house culture of the fathers of the U.S Constitution, or the whig squirearchs whose spiritual heirs they sometimes were, and beyond them to the villegiatura of Palladio’s patrons, or the Medicis’ Poggio a Caiano. Los Angeles cradles and embodies the most potent current version of the great bourgeois vision of the good life in a tamed countryside, and that, more than anything else I can perceive, is why the bourgeois apartment houses of Damascus and the villas of Beirut begin to look the way they do.

This dream retains its power in spite of proneness to logical disproof. It is the dream that appears in Le Corbusier’s equation: un rêve X 1,000,000=chaos. Unfortunately for Le Corbusier’s rhetorical mathematics, the chaos was in his mind, and not in Los Angeles, where seven million adepts at California

Dreaming can find their way around without confusion. But since the dream exists in physical fact — as far as it can—its real failings are manifest enough to be well chronicled. But so too is the untarnished dream itself, at least in allegorical form. If Nathanael West’s Day of the Locust is the most visually perceptive

account of its failings to appear in fiction, another locust book, Ray Bradbury’s The Silver Locusts (The Martian Chronicles) is the purest distillation of the essential dream, in spite of its Martian subject-matter.

The neon-violet sunset light that disquieted the sensibilities of West’s hero by making the Hollywood Hills almost beautiful [123: Hollywood (silk screen print) 1968, Edward Ruscha], is also the light in which I personally delight to drive down the last leg of Wilshire towards the sea, watching the fluorescence of the electric signs mingling with the cheap but invariably emotive colours of the Santa Monica sunset. It is also the light which bathes Bradbury’s Martian evenings.


© 1971 Reyner Banham; New York: Harper & Row

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